Impressive rookies giving Flyers some tough decisions

Flyers Bruins Hockey
Kenny Agostino of the Bruins scores on Alex Lyon in overtime.

BOSTON — After the Flyers made 18 roster cuts Thursday afternoon, some of the remaining 35 players still can’t feel a sense of relief.

Many jobs are up for grabs, making every exhibition game critical for those battling for a roster spot.

“Today is a day where the competition starts to rise in terms of some of the tougher decisions that are coming down the road here,” coach Dave Hakstol said before Thursday’s preseason game in Boston, a 2-1 overtime win for the Bruins.

Hakstol and general manager Ron Hextall will use the remaining four exhibitions to sort out several questions:

  •  If only two defensive spots are open, which of the three impressive rookies — Sam Morin, Robert Hagg, and Travis Sanheim — deserves to stay with the Flyers? Morin and Hagg have had steadier camps, but Sanheim has come on strong lately and he scored the team’s lone goal Thursday.
  • Has center Nolan Patrick, the No. 2 overall pick in the June draft, shown enough in camp to start his NHL career? Hextall hinted the other night that he wanted to see more on the offensive end from the defensively sound Patrick.
  • It seems that impressive rookie left winger Oskar Lindblom has played his way onto the roster, but is speedy rookie left winger Taylor Leier ready to supplant a veteran like Matt Read or Michael Raffl?
  • Does Scott Laughton, a former first-round pick who is coming off a strong AHL season, deserve a full-time NHL job?
  • Will Brandon Manning be 100 percent when the season starts — he had back surgery in late April — and if he’s not, will that cause the Flyers to have three rookie defensemen on their roster when the season starts Oct. 4 in San Jose?

Questions, questions, questions.

“A lot still has to be decided,” Hextall said before his young players got an up close and personal look at Boston’s Zdeno Chara, Boston’s fading-but-still-menacing 6-foot-9, 250-pound defenseman.

The Flyers had Patrick centering Jordan Weal and Wayne Simmonds. Patrick set up Simmonds for a quality chance late in a scoreless first period, but it was turned aside by Tuukka Rask. In the second period, Patrick had a point-blank chance denied by Rask.

One night earlier, Patrick made a slick two-on-one feed that Shayne Gostsibehere converted into the winning overtime goal against the Islanders in Allentown.

“His third period was very good,” Hextall said of Wednesday’s game. “He made a high-level play, and that’s what we want to see.”

Patrick created lots of chances Thursday and seemed to develop a great passing chemistry with Simmonds.

“It was the most comfortable I’ve felt since I’ve been here,” Patrick said after the overtime loss. “I felt I was holding onto pucks longer and making plays. A lot of credit goes to my linemates. They’re great guys on the bench and they were helping me out.”

Hextall said it’s “way too early” to determine whether Patrick stays with the Flyers or goes back to his junior team.

The fourth-year general manager said he wanted to see how Patrick performed on back-to-back nights. Ditto fellow rookies Lindblom, Leier, Hagg, Morin, and Sanheim. Hagg had four first-period hits, and his steady play has been one of the camp’s highlights.

Like Hagg, the unflappable Lindblom is playing as though he belongs. He was on the top line with center Claude Giroux — who figures to get a look at left wing in the preseason — and right winger Jake Voracek.

Hextall said he expects Manning to be totally healthy when the season starts, which means one of the three young defensemen will probably start the season in Lehigh Valley.

Breakaways

The Flyers’ starting goaltender excelled again. One night after Michal Neuvirth stopped 16 of 17 shots, Brian Elliott was superb in his debut with the team. He twice stopped Anders Bjork from point-blank range in the first period, and he took a shutout into the third period. … Early in the game, Lindblom was on the first power-play unit, taking the spot held by Brayden Schenn. … Leier and Val Filppula spent time on the penalty-killing unit, as did Sean Couturier and Raffl. … The Flyers’ power play was 0 for 9 … Sanheim broke up a two-on-one late in the second period.